From the dive bars of Texas to the lofty heights of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, guitarists the world over have spent decades trying to work out the perfect guitar tone for country guitar. Just like any other genre, country music guitarists devote countless hours of practice (and way too much money) trying to dial in the sounds from their favorite albums.
Well what if I told you there was a way to get a great country guitar tone for an incredibly reasonable price? Well luckily for you, with this guide you can!
- How We Evaluated the Gear
- What Should I Look For in a Travel Guitar?
- Country Electric Guitars
- Country Amps
- Country Guitar Pedals
How We Evaluated the Gear
But before we get into the meat and potatoes of the article, I think it’s important to point out why I chose the gear that I did. Every piece of equipment that was included on this list is something that any level of musician can both gig and record with, and not break the bank in doing so.
Also, this list is aimed at reproducing the sounds of country music from the late 50’s to the early 80’s. Not to say that you can’t get more modern tones out of most of this gear, but it’s something you should keep in mind before making your final purchase.
Country Electric Guitars
When you’re looking for a guitar, try to keep in mind that it’s a very modular instrument. Your first priority should be finding a guitar that feels good to play, because everything else can be changed later reasonably cheaply and easily.
The best country guitar isn’t the one with the snappiest sound, or the best hardware, it’s the one that inspires you to play the most.
Squier Classic Vibe 50’s Telecaster
It’s hard to imagine country music without the Telecaster. From Roy Nicholas (the lead guitar player for Merle Haggard) to Luther Perkins (the lead player for Johnny Cash) the Telecaster has been the go to axe for some of music’s most prestigious acts for decades.
The Squier Classic Vibe 50’s Telecaster is part of the recent Classic Vibe series to be released by Fender’s subsidiary Squier, and sports some incredibly impressive features for the price point. Like the very first Telecasters to be released, the Classic Vibe 50’s body is made entirely of pine. The guitar also sports a Vintage Style Strings-Thru-Body Tele Bridge along with two Custom Vintage Style Single-Coil Tele Pickups.
According to general consensus, the Classic Vibe 50’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. It’s an outstanding guitar for older styles (Rockabilly, Country, Old-School Rock And Roll), but it’s less flexible than the other instruments here. So if you need a jack of all trades guitar, this one may not be the best fit. But if you need a country guitar, look no further.
Contrary to popular belief, there have been quite a few famous country guitar players who didn’t use a Telecaster. Some examples include Chet Atkins, Glen Campbell, and Clint Strong, all of whom used everything from Les Pauls to Gretsch hollowbodies.
Like most Epiphone guitars, the Wildkat has a lot of great features for the price point. The P-90 Dogear Classic pickups are described as being smooth and full bodied, while the included Bigsby tremolo system gives the guitar a lot of added utility it wouldn’t have otherwise.
According to other reviews and forums, the Wildkat is generally described as having the basic tonal palette of an Epiphone Casino, as well as some of the twang you’d find in most semi-hollow Gretsch guitars.
Squier Classic Vibe 50’s Stratocaster
Sporting an Alder Body and three Custom Vintage Style Single-Coil Strat pickups, the Squier Classic Vibe 50’s Stratocaster is a player’s instrument in every respect. The guitar also features a Vintage Style Synchronized Tremelo, which retains a vintage aesthetic while benefitting from more modern machining technology.
What’s great about this guitar is that it can cover a lot of ground tonally. Aside from classic country tones, you can also pull out very believable surf, rockabilly and funk tones without much effort.
When looking for the best amp for country, there are a few factors you need to keep in mind. First of all, any amps that you plan on using for country needs to have a great clean sound. However, you’re also going to need an amp that you can tastefully overdrive easily and reliably, as a lot of the later (70s to 80s) country players made use of distortion for a portion of their solos. Your best bet here would be to get an amp that has a clean sound you like, and then pair it with a mid to high-end overdrive pedal.
Fender Pro Junior III
If you plan on playing country exclusively, the Fender Pro Junior III is the amp for you. It features genuine Fender tone at a very reasonable price, and the amp does a great job of reproducing classic country guitar tones. And like all Fender amps, the cleans of the Pro Junior III are extraordinary.
However, the amp will require micing for larger venues. The amp is rated at 15 Watts which, while easily loud enough for small gigs and practice sessions, just won’t be loud enough if you’re planning on playing to large crowds.
A good rule of thumb that I use for tube amps is from 50-150 people in an indoor venue I need at least 15 watts, and from 150-250 people I need 30 watts. If the crowd is larger than 250, or if I’m playing at an outdoor venue, I generally prefer to mic my amplifier.
Peavey Classic 30 II
Peavey has long held the reputation of being the secret weapon of gigging guitarists the world over. From their great bass guitars to their remarkably durable amplifiers, everything that comes out of Peavey provides an incredible value to its target audience.
According to general consensus, the Peavey Classic 30 is a serviceable amp for just about whatever you choose to throw at it. The easiest way to think of this amp is that it’s a jack of all trades but a master of none. It’s an incredibly valuable piece of gear for the musician who needs to cover a lot of ground musically, but there are amps that can beat it out in select categories.
Unfortunately, an all tube amplifier may be out of reach for a lot of you reading this. Thankfully, with Vox’s hybrid-amplifiers a close approximation of all tube tone can be achieved relatively cheaply.
Aside from the price, what’s great about this amp is that maintaining it will be quite a bit easier than a full tube amplifier. If you play regularly, you generally have to switch out tubes once a year. While it’s not horribly expensive (it generally costs me around $100 depending on the amp) it can be a bit inconvenient depending on your financial situation. The Vox AC15VR on the other-hand only uses two tubes, one in the preamp and one in the power section.
According to various sources, the Vox AC15VR carries all of the tonal properties you would expect from a Vox amplifier. The clean sounds are vaguely woody yet bright without being brittle, and by all accounts the onboard overdrive is very usable.
Country Guitar Pedals
To really get a proper country tone, you generally need at least three different pedals; a compressor, a delay, and an overdrive.
The delay is generally used either for slapback (think Rockabilly) or set to very subtly fill out your tone for solos or lead lines.
While it’s not a necessity (provided you have good technique), a compressor pedal will make getting a good “Chicken-Pickin’” tone a lot easier. This is due to the fact the “Chicken-Pickin’” is a hybrid-picking technique (meaning you use both your pick and your fingers) which can make getting a consistent output from string to string up and down the neck a bit of a pain.
And finally, the overdrive pedal is used the same way it’s used in other genres. However, I find that I need a very tweakable overdrive pedal for country. Some songs I need an overdriven tone that can go from being subtly intertwined with the acoustic guitar to being really cutting, and some songs I need to go from a very chiming clean to a swampy and thick overdrive.
While I could use separate overdrives to achieve this, it’s substantially cheaper to get one flexible overdrive that can be used in conjunction with the controls on my guitar to cover all of the ground I need.
Joyo Jf-10 Dynamic Compressor
Though the company may not have the largest presence as of writing, Joyo Audio has done a great job in producing some incredibly high quality gear for its price point. And the Jf-10 Dynamic Compressor is definitely no exception to this trend.
Like all Joyo pedals, the Jf-10 is true bypass and sports an all metal case construction. The pedal also features a 9-volt input for power supplies, as well as the ability to be run on a standard 9-volt battery.
Visual Sound V3XO Dual Overdrive
If you obsess about having the perfect overdrive tone (and be honest, who doesn’t) then look no further than the Visual Sound V3XO Dual Overdrive Pedal. Featuring two distinct overdrive voicings, along a three way EQ, a three way diode clipping style switch, and a clean blend option, the X3VO is one of the most versatile overdrive pedals ever.
The two independent channels give you a lot of options in how you choose to structure your sound, and with the plethora of other option players should have no problem pulling any classic overdriven country tone out of this pedal.
Wampler Faux Analog Echo Delay Pedal
Handmade in the U.S.A., the Wampler Faux Analog Echo Delay Pedal is an incredibly high quality piece of equipment. The pedal is based on the industry leading ps-2399 chip, which provides an incredibly warm, yet accurate, recreation of your guitar’s input signal.
The best thing about this pedal is how realistic it feels. Cheaper delays tend to sound a bit dark and brittle, but the Wampler does a great job of producing that classic warm delay you’ve heard on countless country albums.
When it comes to gear for country music, there’s never a right or wrong answer. So don’t think of this list as the end all be all on what gear you’ll need, instead think of it as a guide to get you heading in the right direction.